A general update. Links.

I. A general update regarding my on-going research work (on my new approach to QM):

1.1 How the development is actually proceeding:

I am working through my new approach to QM. These days, I write down something and/or implement some small and simple Python code snippets (< 100 LOC Python code) every day. So, it’s almost on a daily basis that I am grasping something new.

The items of understanding are sometimes related to my own new approach to QM, and at other times, just about the mainstream QM itself. Yes, in the process of establishing a correspondence of my ideas with those of the mainstream QM, I am getting to learn the ideas and procedures from the mainstream QM too, to a better depth. … At other times, I learn something about the correspondence of both the mainstream QM and my approach, with the classical mechanics.

Yes, at times, I also spot some inconsistencies within my own framework! It too happens! I’ve spotted several “misconceptions” that I myself have had—regarding my own approach!

You see, when you are ab initio developing a new theory, it’s impossible to pursue the development of the theory very systematically. It’s impossible to be right about every thing, right from the beginning. That’s because the very theory itself is not fully known to you while you are still developing it! The neatly worked out structure, its best possible presentations, the proper hierarchical relations… all of these emerge only some time later.

Yes, you do have some overall, “vaguish” idea(s) about the major themes that are expected to hold the new theory together. You do know many elements that must be definitely there.

In my case, such essential themes or theoretical elements go, for example, like: the energy conservation principle, the reality of some complex-valued field, the specific (natural) form of the non-linearity which I have proposed, my description of the measurement process and of Born’s postulate, the role that the Eulerian (fixed control volume-based) formulations play in my theorization, etc.

But all these are just elements. Even when tied together, they still amount to only an initial framework. Many of these elements may eventually turn out to play an over-arching role in the finished theory. But during the initial stages (including the stage I am in), you can’t even tell which element is going to play a greater role. All the elements are just loosely (or flexibly) held together in your mind. Such a loosely held set does not qualify to be called a theory. There are lots and lots (and lots) of details that you still don’t even know exist. You come to grasp these only on the fly, only as you are pursuing the “fleshing out” of the “details”.

1.2. Multiple threads of seemingly haphazard threads of thoughts

Once the initial stage gets over, and you are going through the fleshing out stage, the development has a way of progressing on multiple threads of thought, simultaneously.

There are insights or minor developments, or simply new validations of some earlier threads, which occur almost on a daily basis. Each is a separate piece of a small little development; it makes sense to you; and all such small little pieces keep adding up—in your mind and in your notebooks.

Still, there is not much to share with others, simply because in the absence of a knowledge of all that’s going through your mind, any pieces you share are simply going to look as if they were very haphazard, even “random”.

1.3. At this stage, others can easily misunderstand what you mean:

Another thing. There is also a danger that someone may misread you.

For example, because he himself is not clear on many other points which you have not noted explicitly.

Or, may be, you have noted your points somewhere, but he hasn’t yet gone through them. In my case, it is the entirety of my Ontologies series [^]. … Going by the patterns of hits at this blog, I doubt whether any single soul has ever read through them all—apart from me, that is. But this entire series is very much alive in my mind when I note something here or there, including on the Twitter too.

Or, sometimes, there is a worse possibility too: The other person may read what you write quite alright, but what you wrote down itself was somewhat misleading, perhaps even wrong!

Indeed, recently, something of this sort happened when I had a tiny correspondence with someone. I had given a link to my Outline document [^]. He went through it, and then quoted from it in his reply to me. I had said, in the Outline document, that the electrons and protons are classical point-particles. His own position was that they can’t possibly be. … How possibly could I reply him? I actually could not. So, I did not!

I distinctly remember that right when I was writing this point in the Outline document, I had very much hesitated precisely at it. I knew that the word “classical” was going to create a lot of confusions. People use it almost indiscriminately: (i) for the ontology of Newtonian particles, (ii) for the ontology of Newtonian gravity, (iii) for ontology of the Fourier theory (though very few people think of this theory in the context of ontologies), (iv) for ontology of EM as implied by Maxwell, (v) for ontology of EM as Lorentz was striving to get at and succeeded brilliantly in so many essential respects (but not all, IMO), etc.

However, if I were to spend time on getting this portion fully clarified (first to myself, and then for the Outline document), then I also ran the risk of missing out on noting many other important points which also were fairly nascent to me (in the sense, I had not noted them down in a LaTeX document). These points had to be noted on priority, right in the Outline document.

Some of these points were really crucial—the V(x,t) field as being completely specified in reference to the elementary charges alone (i.e. no arbitrary PE fields), the non-linearity in \Psi(x,t), the idea that it is the Instrument’s (or Detector’s) wavefunction which undergoes a catastrophic change—and not the wavefunction of the particle being measured, etc. A lot of such points. These had to be noted, without wasting my time on what precisely I meant when I used the word “classical” for the point-particle of the electron etc.

Yes, I did identify that I the elementary particles were to be taken as conditions in the aether. I did choose the word “background object” merely in order to avoid any confusion with Maxwell’s idea of a mechanical aether. But I myself wasn’t fully clear on all aspects of all the ideas. For instance, I still was not familiar with the differences of Lorentz’ aether from Maxwell’s.

All in all, a document like the Outline document had to be an incomplete document; it had to come out in the nature of a hurried job. In fact, it was so. And I identified it as such.

I myself gained a fuller clarity on many of these issues only while writing the Ontologies series, which happened some 7 months later, after putting out the Outline document online. And, it was even as recently as in the last month (i.e., about 1.5 years after the Outline document) that I was still further revising my ideas regarding the correspondence between QM and CM. … Indeed, this still remains a work in progress… I am maintaining handwritten notes and LaTeX files too (sort of like “journal”s or “diaries”).

All in all, sharing a random snapshot of a work-in-progress always carries such a danger. If you share your ideas too early, while they still are being worked out, you might even end up spreading some wrong notions! And when it comes to theoretical work, there is no product-recall mechanism here—at all! Detrimental to your goals, after all!

1.3 How my blogging is going to go, in the next few weeks:

So, though I am passing through a very exciting phase of development these days, and though I do feel like sharing something or the other on an almost daily basis, when I sit down and think of writing a blog post, unfortunately, I find that there is very little that I can actually share.

For this very reason, my blogging is going to be sparse over the coming weeks.

However, in the meanwhile, I might post some brief entries, especially regarding papers/notes/etc. by others. As in this post.

OTOH, if you want something bigger to think about, see the Q&A answers from my last post here. That material is enough to keep you occupied for a couple of decades or more… I am not joking. That’s what’s happened to others; it has happened to me; and I can guarantee you that it would happen to you too, so long as you keep forgetting whatever you’ve read about my new approach. You could then very easily spend decades and decades (and decades)…

Anyway, coming back to some recent interesting pieces by others…

II. Links:

2.1. Luboš Motl on TerraPower, Inc.:

Dr. Luboš Motl wrote a blog-post of the title “Green scientific illiteracy enters small nuclear reactors, too” [^]. This piece is a comment on TerraPower’s proposal. In case you didn’t know, TerraPower is a pet project of Bill Gates’.

My little note (on the local HDD), upon reading this post, had said something like, “The critics of this idea are right, from an engineering/technological viewpoint.”

In particular, I have too many apprehensions about using liquid sodium. Further, given the risk involved in distributing the sensitive nuclear material over all those geographically dispersed plants, this idea does become, err…, stupid.

In the above post, Motl makes reference to another post of his, one from 2019, regarding the renewable energies like the solar and the wind. The title of this earlier post read: “Bill Gates: advocates of dominant wind & solar energy are imbeciles” [^]. Make sure to go through this one too. The calculation given in it is of a back-of-the-envelop kind, but it also is very impeccable. You can’t find flaw with the calculation itself.

Of course, this does not mean that research on renewable energies should not be pursued. IMO, it should be!

It’s just that I want to point out a few things: (i) Motl chooses the city of Tokyo for his calculation, which IMO would be an extreme case. Tokyo is a very highly dense city—both population-wise and on the count of geographical density of industries (and hence, of industrial power consumption). There can easily be other places where the density of power consumption, and the availability of the natural renewable resources, are better placed together. (ii) Even then, calculations such as that performed by Motl must be included in all analyses—and, the cost of renewable energy must be calculated without factoring in the benefit of government subsidies. … Yes, research on renewable energy would still remain justified. (iii) Personally, I find the idea of converting the wind/solar electricity into hydrogen more attractive. See my 2018 post [^] which had mentioned the idea of using the hydrogen gas as a “flywheel” of sorts, in a distributed system of generation (i.e. without transporting the wind-generated hydrogen itself, over long distances).

2.2. Demonstrations on coupled oscillations and resonance at Harvard:

See this page [^]; the demonstrations are neat.

As to the relevance of this topic to my new approach to QM: The usual description of resonance proceeds by first stating a homogeneous differential equation, and then replacing the zero on the right hand-side with a term that stands for an oscillating driving force [^]. Thus, we specify a force-term for the driver, but the System under study is still being described with the separation vector (i.e. a displacement) as the primary unknown.

Now, just take the driver part of the equation, and think of it as a multi-scaled effect of a very big assemblage of particles whose motions themselves are fundamentally described using exactly the same kind of terms as those for the particles in the System, i.e., using displacements as the primary unknown. It is the multi-scaling procedure which transforms a fundamentally displacement-based description to a basically force-primary description. Got it? Hint below.

[Hint: In the resonance equation, it is assumed that form of the driving force remains exactly the same at all times: with exactly the same F_0, m, and \omega. If you replace the driving part with particles and springs, none of the three parameters characterizing the driving force will remain constant, especially \omega. They all will become functions of time. But we want all the three parameters to stay constant in time. …Now, the real hint: Think of the exact sinusoidal driving force as an abstraction, and multi-scaling as a means of reaching that abstraction.]

2.3 Visualization of physics at the University of St. Andrews:

Again, very neat [^]. The simulations here have very simple GUI, but the design of the applets has been done thoughtfully. The scenarios are at a level more advanced than the QM simulations at PhET, University of Colorado [^].

2.4. The three-body problem:

The nonlinearity in \Psi(x,t) which I have proposed is, in many essential ways, similar to the classical N-body problem.

The simplest classical N-body problem is the 3-body problem. Rhett Allain says that the only way to solve the 3-body problem is numerically [^]. But make sure to at least cursorily note the special solutions mentioned in the Wiki [^]. This Resonance article (.PDF) [^] seems quite comprehensive, though I haven’t gone through it completely. Related, with pictures: A recent report with simulations, for search on “choreographies” (which is a technical term; it refers to trajectories that repeat) [^].

Sure there could be trajectories that repeat for some miniscule number of initial conditions. But the general rule is that the 3-body problem already shows sensitive dependence on initial conditions. Search the ‘net for 4-body, 5-body problems. … In QM, we have 10^{23} particles. Cool, no?

2.5. Academic culture in India:

2.5.1: Max Born in IISc Bangalore:

Check out a blog post/article by Karthik Ramaswamy, of the title “When Raman brought Born to Bangalore” [^]. (H/t Luboš Motl [^].)

2.5.2: Academic culture in India in recent times—a personal experience involving the University of Pune, IIT Bombay, IIT Madras, and IISc Bangalore:

After going through the above story, may I suggest that you also go through my posts on the Mechanical vs. Metallurgy “Branch Jumping” issue. This issue decidedly came up in 2002 and 2003, when I went to IIT Bombay for trying admission to PhD program in Mechanical department. I tried multiple times. They remained adamant throughout the 2002–2003 times. An associate professor from the Mechanical department was willing to become my guide. (We didn’t know each other beforehand.) He fought for me in the department meeting, but unsucessfully. (Drop me a line to know who.) One professor from their CS department, too, sympathetically listened to me. He didn’t understand the Mechanical department’s logic. (Drop me a line to know who.)

Eventually, in 2003, three departments at IISc Bangalore showed definite willingness to admit me.

One was a verbal offer that the Chairman of the SERC made to me, but in the formal interview (after I had on-the-spot cleared their written tests—I didn’t know they were going to hold these). He even offered me a higher-than-normal stipend (in view of my past experience), but he said that the topic of research would have to be one from some 4–5 ongoing research projects. I declined on the spot. (He did show a willingness to wait for a little while, but I respectfully declined it too, because I knew I wanted to develop my own ideas.)

At IISc, there also was a definite willingness to admit me by both their Mechanical and Metallurgy departments. That is, during my official interviews with them (which once again happened after I competitively cleared their separate written tests, being short-listed to within 15 or 20 out of some 180 fresh young MTech’s in Mechanical branch from IISc and IITs—being in software, I had forgotten much of my core engineering). Again, it emerged during my personal interviews with the departmental committees, that I could be in (yes, even in their Mechanical department), provided that I was willing to work on a topic of their choice. I protested a bit, and indicated the loss of my interest right then and there, during both these interviews.

Finally, at around the same time (2003), at IIT Madras, the Metallurgical Engg. department also made an offer to me (after yet another written test—which I knew was going to be held—and an interview with a big committee). They gave me the nod. That is, they would let me pursue my own ideas for my PhD. … I was known to many of them because I had done my MTech right from the same department, some 15–17 years earlier. They recalled, on their own, the hard work which I had put in during my MTech project work. They were quite confident that I could deliver on my topic even if they at that time they (and I!) had only a minimal idea about it.

However, soon enough, Prof. Kajale at COEP agreed to become my official guide at University of Pune. Since it would be convenient for me to remain in Pune (my mother was not keeping well, among other things), I decided to do my PhD from Pune, rather than broach the topic once again at SERC, or straight-away join the IIT Madras program.

Just thought of jotting down the more recent culture at these institutes (at IIT Bombay, IIT Madras, and IISc Bangalore), in COEP, and of course, in the University of Pune. I am sure it’s just a small slice in the culture, just one sample, but it still should be relevant…

Also relevant is this part: Right until I completely left academia for good a couple of years ago, COEP professors and the University of Pune (not to mention UGC and AICTE) continued barring me from becoming an approved professor of mechanical engineering. (It’s the same small set of professors who keep chairing interview processes in all the colleges, even universities. So, yes, the responsibility ultimately lies with a very small group of people from IIT Bombay’s Mechanical department—the Undisputed and Undisputable Leader, and with COEP and University of Pune—the  Faithful Followers of the former).

2.5.3. Dirac in India:

BTW, in India, there used to a monthly magazine called “Science Today.” I vaguely recall that my father used to have a subscription for it right since early 1970s or so. We would eagerly wait for each new monthly issue, especially once I knew enough English (and physics) to be able to more comfortably go through the contents. (My schooling was in Marathi medium, in rural areas.) Of course, my general browsing of this magazine had begun much earlier. [“Science Today” would be published by the Times of India group. Permanently gone are those days!]

I now vaguely remember that one of the issues of “Science Today” had Paul Dirac prominently featured in it. … I can’t any longer remember much anything about it. But by any chance, was it the case that Prof. Dirac was visiting India, may be TIFR Bombay, around that time—say in mid or late 1970s, or early 1980’s? … I tried searching for it on the ‘net, but could not find anything, not within the first couple of pages after a Google search. So, may be, likely, I have confused things. But would sure appreciate pointers to it…

PS: Yes, I found this much:

“During 1973 and 1975 Dirac lectured on the problems of cosmology in the Physical Engineering Institute in Leningrad. Dirac also visited India.’‘ [^].

… Hmm… Somehow, for some odd reason, I get this feeling that the writer of this piece, someone at Vigyan Prasar, New Delhi, must have for long been associated with IIT Bombay (or equivalent thereof). Whaddaya think?

2.6. Jim Baggott’s new book: “Quantum Reality”:

I don’t have the money to buy any books, but if I were to, I would certainly buy three books by Jim Baggott: The present book of the title “Quantum Reality,” as well as a couple of his earlier books: the “40 moments” book and the “Quantum Cookbook.” I have read a lot of pages available at the Google books for all of these three books (may be almost all of the available pages), and from what I read, I am fully confident that buying these books would be money very well spent indeed.

Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder has reviewed this latest book by Baggott, “Quantum Reality,” at the Nautil.us; see “Your guide to the many meanings of quantum mechanics,” here [^]. … I am impressed by it—I mean this review. To paraphrase Hossenfelder herself: “There is nothing funny going on here, in this review. It just, well, feels funny.”

Dr. Peter Woit, too, has reviewed “Quantum Reality” at his blog [^] though in a comparatively brief manner. Make sure to go through the comments after his post, especially the very first comment, the one which concerns classical mechanics, by Matt Grayson [^]. PS: Looks like Baggott himself is answering some of the comments too.

Sometime ago, I read a few blog posts by Baggott. It seemed to me that he is not very well trained in philosophy. It seems that he has read philosophy deeply, but not comprehensively. [I don’t know whether he has read the Objectivist metaphysics and epistemology or not; whether he has gone through the writings/lectures by Ayn Rand, Dr. Leonard Peikoff, Dr. Harry Binswanger and David Harriman or not. I think not. If so, I think that he would surely benefit by this material. As always, you don’t have to agree with the ideas. But yes, the material that I am pointing out is by all means neat enough that I can surely recommend it.]

Coming back to Baggott: I mean to say, he delivers handsomely when (i) he writes books, and (ii) sticks to the physics side of the topics. Or, when he is merely reporting on others’ philosophic positions. (He can condense down their positions in a very neat way.) But in his more leisurely blog posts/articles, and sometimes even in his comments, he does show a tendency to take some philosophic point in a something of a wrong direction, and to belabour on it unnecessarily. That is to say, he does show a certain tendency towards pedantry, as it were.  But let me hasten to add: He seems to show this tendency only in some of his blog-pieces. Somehow, when it comes to writing books, he does not at all show this tendency—well, at least not in the three books I’ve mentioned above.

So, the bottomline is this:

If you have an interest in QM, and if you want a comprehensive coverage of all its interpretations, then this book (“Quantum Reality”) is for you. It is meant for the layman, and also for philosophers.

However, if what you want is a very essentialized account of most all of the crucial moments in the development of QM (with a stress on physics, but with some philosophy also touched on, and with almost no maths), then go buy his “40 Moments” book.

Finally, if you have taken a university course in QM (or are currently taking it), then do make sure to buy his “Cookbook” (published in January this year). From what I have read, I can easily tell: You would be doing yourself a big favour by buying this book. I wish the Cookbook was available to me at least in 2015 if not earlier. But the point is, even after developing my new approach, I am still going to buy it. It achieves a seemingly impossible combination: Something that makes for an easy reading (if you already know the QM) but it will also serve as a permanent reference, something which you can look up any time later on. So, I am going to buy it, once I have the money. Also, “Quantum Reality”, the present book for the layman. Indeed all the three books I mentioned.

(But I am not interested in relativity theory, or QFT, standard model, etc. etc. etc., and so, I will not even look into any books on these topics, written by any one.)

OK then, let me turn back to my work… May be I will come back with some further links in the next post too, may be after 10–15 days. Until then, take care, and bye for now…

A song I like:

(Marathi) घन घन माला नभी दाटल्या (“ghan ghan maalaa nabhee daaTalyaa”)
Singer: Manna Dey
Lyrics: G. D. Madgulkar
Music: Vasant Pawar

[A classic Marathi song. Based on the (Sanskrit, Marathi) राग मल्हार (“raaga” called “Malhaara”). The best quality audio is here [^]. Sung by Manna Dey, a Bengali guy who was famous for his Hindi film songs. … BTW, it’s been a marvellous day today. Clear skies in the morning when I thought of doing a blog post today and was wondering if I should add this song or not. And, by the time I finish it, here are strong showers in all their glory! While my song selection still remains more or less fully random (on the spur of the moment), since I have run so many songs already, there has started coming in a bit of deliberation too—many songs that strike me have already been run!

Since I am going to be away from blogging for a while, and since many of the readers of this blog don’t have the background to appreciate Marathi songs, I may come back and add an additional song, a non-Marathi song, right in this post. If so, the addition would be done within the next two days or so. …Else, just wait until the next post, please! Done, see the song below]

(Hindi) बोल रे पपीहरा (“bol re papiharaa”)
Singer: Vani Jairam
Music: Vasant Desai
Lyrics: Gulzar

[I looked up on the ‘net to see if I can get some Hindi song that is based on the same “raaga”, i.e., “Malhaar” (in general). I found this one, among others. Comparing these two songs should give you some idea about what it means when two songs are said to share the same “raaga”. … As to this song, I should also add that the reason for selecting it had more to do with nostalgia, really speaking. … You can find a good quality audio here [^].

Another thing (that just struck me, on the fly): Somehow, I also thought of all those ladies and gentlemen from the AICTE New Delhi, UGC New Delhi, IIT Bombay’s Mechanical Engg. department, all the professors (like those on R&R committees) from the University of Pune (now called SPPU), and of course, the Mechanical engg. professors from COEP… Also, the Mechanical engineering professors from many other “universities” from the Pune/Mumbai region. … पपीहरा… (“papiharaa”) Aha!… How apt are words!… Excellence! Quality! Research! Innovation! …बोल रे, पपीहरा ऽऽऽ (“bol re papiharaa…”). … No jokes, I had gone jobless for 8+ years the last time I counted…

Anyway, see if you like the song… I do like this song, though, probably, it doesn’t make it to my topmost list. … It has more of a nostalgia value for me…

Anyway, let’s wrap up. Take care and bye for now… ]

— First published: 2020.09.05 18:28 IST.
— Several significant additions revisions till 2020.09.06 01:27 IST.
— Much editing. Added the second song. 2020.09.06 21:40 IST. (Now will leave this post in whatever shape it is in.)



Yeah! Just that!


Update on 2020.02.17 16:02 IST:

The above is a snap I took yesterday at the Bhau Institute [^]’s event: “Pune Startup Fest” [^].

The reason I found myself laughing out loud was this: Yesterday, some of the distinguished panelists made one thing very clear: The valuation for the same product is greater in the S.F. Bay Area than in Pune, because the eco-system there is much more mature, with the investors there having seen many more exits—whether successful or otherwise.


When I was in the USA (which was in the 1990s), they would always say that not every one has to rush there to the USA, especially to the S.F. Bay Area, because technology works the same way everywhere, and hence, people should rather be going back to India. The “they” of course included the Indians already established there.

In short, their never-stated argument was this much: You can make as much money by working from India as from the SF Bay Area. (Examples of the “big three” of Indian IT Industry would often be cited, esp. of Narayana Moorthy’s.) So, “why flock in here”?

Looks like, even if they took some 2–3 decades to do so, finally, something better seems to have downed on them. They seem to have gotten to the truth, which is: Market valuations for the same product are much greater in the SF Bay Area than elsewhere!

So, this all was in the background, in the context.

Then, I was musing about their rate of learning last night, and that’s when I wrote this post! Hence the title.

But of course, not every thing was laughable about, or in, the event.

I particularly liked Vatsal Kanakiya’s enthusiasm (the second guy from the right in the above photo, his LinkedIn profile is here [^]). I appreciated his ability to keep on highlighting what they (their firm) are doing, despite a somewhat cocky (if not outright dismissive) way in which his points were being seen, at least initially. Students attending the event might have found his enthusiasm more in line with theirs, especially after he not only mentioned Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 rule [^], but also cited a statistics from their own office to support it: 1892 proposals last month (if I got that figure right). … Even if he was very young, it was this point which finally made it impossible, for many in that hall, to be too dismissive of him. (BTW, he is from Mumbai, not Pune. (Yes, COEP is in Pune.))


A song I like:

(Hindi) ये मेरे अंधेरे उजाले ना होते (“ye mere andhere ujaale naa hote”)
Music: Salil Chowdhury
Singers: Talat Mahmood, Lata Mangeshkar
Lyrics: Rajinder Kishen

[Buildings made from the granite stone [I studied geology in my SE i.e. second year of engineering] have a way of reminding you of a few songs. Drama! Contrast!! Life!!! Money!!!! Success!!!!! Competition Success Review!!!!!!  Governments!!!!!!! *Business*men!!!!!!!!]



Micro-level water-resources engineering—10: A bridge to end droughts?…

Let me ask you a simple question: Why are bridges at all necessary? I mean to refer to the bridges that get built on rivers. …Why do you at all have to build them?

Your possible answer might be this: Bridges are built on rivers primarily because there is water in the rivers, and the presence of the water body makes it impossible to continue driving across the river. Right? OK. Good.

In India, “kachchaa” (untarred) roads often exist on the sides of the main road or a high-way, as we approach a bridge on a river. These side-roads usually aren’t built after planning, but simply are a result of the tracks left by the bullock-carts plying through the fields, on both sides of the road. People from nearby villages often find such side roads very convenient for their purposes, including accessing the river. The sand-smugglers too find such approach-roads very convenient to their purposes. The same roads are also found convenient by journalists and NGO workers who wish to visit and photograph the same river-bed as it turns totally dry, for quite some time before summer even approaches.

Somewhere in there lies a certain contradiction—a technical contradiction, I should add.

If there were to be no water, ever, in these rivers, then no bridges would at all be necessary. Yet, these bridges are there. That’s because, in monsoon, it rains so much that these rivers begin to flow with full capacity; they even overflow and cause extensive flooding in the adjacent areas. So, naturally, bridges have to be built.

Yet, come even just late winter time, and the river-bed is already on its way to going completely dry. The bridge might as well not have been there.

Thus, the bridges, it would seem, are both necessary and not necessary in India. That’s the contradiction I was talking about.

But why not turn this entire situation to your advantage, and use the very site of a bridge for building a small check-dam?

After all, the very fact that there is a bridge means:

there is enough water flowing through that river, at least during monsoons. We only have to find a way to use it.

Here are some of the advantages of building check-dams nearby a bridge—or may be even directly underneath its span:

  • The patterns of water-flow across the pillars of the bridge, and even the pattern of flooding near the site of the bridge, has become well known, even if only because there is a better access to this site (as compared to other potential sites for a check-dam)—because of the existence of the main road.
  • There is already a built structure in place. This means that the nature of the rocks and of the soil at the site is already well studied. You don’t have to conduct costly geological surveys afresh; you only have to refer to the ready-made past reports.
  • Another implication of there being a pre-existing structure is this: The nearby land has already been acquired. There is no cost to be incurred in land acquisition, and the cost and other concerns in relocating the people.
  • Columns/pillars of the bridge already exist, and so, the cost of building the wall of a check-dam can come down at least a bit—especially if the wall is constructed right underneath the bridge.
  • Many times, there also is a lower-level cause-way, or an older and abandoned bridge lying nearby, which is no longer used. It can be dismantled so that the stones used in its construction can be recycled for building the wall of the check-dam. It’s another potential reduction in cost (including in the material transportation cost).
  • The existence of a bridge at a site can often mean that there is likely to be a significant population on either sides of the river—a population which had demanded that the bridge be built in the first place. Implication: If a water body comes to exist at this same site, then the water doesn’t have to be transported over long distances, because a definite demand would exist locally. Even if not, if the check-dam is equipped with gates, then the stored water can be supplied at distant locations downstream using the same river—you don’t have to build canals (starting from the acquisition of land for them, and further costs and concerns down the way).
  • Easy access to transportation would be good for side-businesses like fisheries, even for building recreational sites. (Think agro-tourism, boating, etc.)

Of course, there are certain important points of caution or concern, too. These must be considered in each individual case, on a case-to-case basis:

  • The local flow pattern would get adversely affected, which can prove to be dangerous for the bridge itself.
  • There is a likelihood of a greater flooding occurring in the nearby locations—esp. upstream! A blocked river swells easily, and does not drain as rapidly as it otherwise would—the causeway or the spillway can easily turn out to be too small, especially in the case of small dams or check-dams.
  • The height of the bridge itself may be good, but still, the river itself may turn out to be a little too shallow at a given location for a check-dam to become technically feasible, there. Given the importance of the evaporation losses, the site still may not turn out to be suitable for building a check-dam. (For evaporation losses, see my last post in this series [^].)

But overall, I think that the idea is attractive enough that it should be pursued very seriously, especially by students and faculty of engineering colleges.

We all know that there has been a great proliferation of engineering colleges all over the country. The growth is no longer limited to only big cities; many of them are situated in very rural areas too.

When a problem to be studied touches on the lives of people, say a student or two, it becomes easy for them to turn serious about it. Speaking from my own personal experience, I can say that BE project-reports from even relatively lower-quality engineering colleges have been surprisingly (unexpectedly) good, when two factors were present:

(i) When the project topic itself dealt with some issue which is close to the actual life of the students and the faculty, to their actual concerns.

For instance, consider the topic of studies of design of check-dams and farm-ponds, and their effectiveness.

During my stint as a professor, I have found that rural students consistently show (across batches) reporting of the actual data (i.e., not a copy-paste job).

In fact, even if they were not otherwise very bright academically, they did show unexpectedly better observation abilities. The observation tables in their reports would not fail to show the more rapidly falling water levels in check-dams. Invariably, they had backed the data in the tables with even photos of the almost dried up check-dams too.

Yes, the photos were often snapped unprofessionally—invariably, using their cell-phones. (Their parked bikes could be easily visible in the photos, but then, sometimes, also the Sun.) No, these rural students typically didn’t use the photo-quality glossy paper to take their printouts—which was very unlike the students from the big cities. The rural students typically had used only ordinary bond-paper even for taking color printouts of their photos (invariably using lower-resolution ink-jet printers).

But still, typically, the set of photos would unambiguously bring out the fact of multiple field visits they had made, per their teacher. The background shrubs showed seasonal variations, for instance; also the falling water levels, and the marks of the salt on the dam walls.

Invariably, the photos only corroborated—and not even once contradicted—the numbers or trends reported in their observation tables.

Gives me the hope that one relatively easy way to identify suitable bridges would be to rely on students like these.

(ii) The second factor (for good, reliable field studies) was: the presence of a teacher who guides the students right.

No, he doesn’t have to have a PhD, or even ME for that matter. But he has to know for himself, and pass on to his students, the value of the actual, direct and unadulterated observations, the value of pursuing a goal sincerely over a course of 6–8 months—and the fun one can have in doing that.

OK, a bit of a digression it all was. But the point to which I wanted to come, was academics, anyway.

I think academic institutions should take a lead in undertaking studies for feasibility of converting a bridge into a check-dam. Each academic team should pick up some actual location, and study it thoroughly from different viewpoints including (but not limited to):

  • CFD analysis for predicting the altered water-flow and flooding patterns (with the water flow possibly designed to occur over the main wall itself, i.e. without a side-weir), especially for a dam which is situated right under a bridge);
  • FEM analysis for strength and durability of the structures;
  • Total costs that will be incurred; total savings due to the site (near a bridge vs. far away from it at some location that is not easy to access); and overall cost–benefits analysis; etc.

The initiative for such studies could possibly begin from IITs or other premier engineering colleges, and then, via some research collaboration schemes, it could get spread over to other engineering colleges. Eventually, this kind of a research—a set of original studies—could come to take hold in the rural engineering colleges, too. … Hopefully.

Should the government agencies like PWD, Irrigation Dept., or “private,” American concerns like the Engineers India Limited, etc., get involved?

Here, I think that the above-mentioned academic teams certainly are going to benefit from interactions with certain select institutes like (speaking of Maharashtra) CDO Nasik, and CWPRS Pune.

However, when it comes PWD etc. proper, I do think that they operate rather in a direct project-execution mode, and not so much in a “speculative” research mode. Plus, their thinking still remains grooved in the older folds such as: either have multi-purpose large dams or have no dams at all!, etc.

But, yes, CWPRS Pune has simulation facilities (both with physical scale-models, and also via computational simulation methods), and CDO Nasik has not only design expertise but also data on all the bridges in the state. (CDO is the centralized design services organization that is responsible for engineering designs of all the dams, canals, bridges and similar structures built by the state government in Maharashtra.) The cooperation of these two organizations would therefore be important.

In the meanwhile, if you are not an engineering student or a faculty member, but still, if you are enthusiastic about this topic, then you can do one thing.

The next time you run into a site that fulfills the following criteria, go ahead, discuss it with people from the nearby villages, take a good set of snaps of the site from all sides, write a very small and informal description including the location details, and send it over by email to me. I will then see what best can be done to take it further. (The fact that there were so few engineering colleges in our times has one advantage: Many of the engineers today in responsible positions come from the COEP network.)

The absolutely essential criteria that your site should fulfill are the following two:

  1. The river gorge must be at least 25 feet deep at the candidate location.
  2. The under-side of the bridge-girder should itself be at least 35 feet above the ground or at a higher level (so that there is at least prima facie enough of a clearance for the flood water to safely pass through the bridge). But please note, this figure is purely my hunch, as of now. I may come back and revise this figure after discussing the matter with some researchers/IIT professors/experienced engineers. For visualization, remember: 10 feet means one storey, or the height of a passenger bus. Thus, the road should lie some 4 stories high from the river-bed. Only then can you overcome evaporation losses and also have enough clearance for flood water to safely pass through without doing any damage to the bridge or the dam.

Further, the preferred criteria (in site selection) would be these:

  1. The upstream of the site should not have too steep a gradient—else, the storage volume might turn out to be too small, or, severe flooding might occur upstream of the check-dam! For the same reason, avoid sites with water-falls nearby (within 1–2 km) upstream.
  2. The site should preferably be situated in a drought-prone region.
  3. Preferably, there should be an older, abandoned bridge of a much lower height (or a cause-way) parallel to a new bridge. Though not absolutely necessary I do include this factor in searches for the initial candidate locations, because it indirectly tells us that enough water flows through the river during the monsoons that the cause-way wouldn’t be enough (it would get submerged), and therefore, a proper bridge (which is tall enough) had to be built. This factor thus indirectly tells us that there is enough rainfall in the catchment area, so that the check-dam would sure get filled to its design capacity—that one wouldn’t have to do any detailed rainfall assessment for the catchment region and all.

So, if you can spot such a site, please do pursue it a bit further, and then, sure do drop me a line. I will at least look into what all can be done.

But, yes, in India, bridges do get built in the perennially drought-prone regions too. After all, when the monsoon arrives, there is flooding even in the drought-prone regions. It’s just that we haven’t applied enough engineering to convert the floods into useful volumes of stored water.

… For a pertinent example, see this YouTube video of a bridge getting washed away near Latur in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra, in September 2016 [^]. Yes, Latur is the same city where even drinking water had to be supplied using trains, starting from early April 2016 [^].

So, we supplied water by train to Latur in April 2016. But then, in September 2016 (i.e. the very next monsoon), their local rivers swelled so much, that an apparently well-built bridge got washed away in the floods. … Turns out that the caution I advised above, concerning simulating flooding, wasn’t out of place. …  But coming back to the drought-prone Latur, though I didn’t check it, I feel sure that come April 2017, and it was all back to a drought in Latur—once again. Fatigue!

PS: In fact, though this idea (of building check-dams near bridges) had occurred to me several years ago, I think I never wrote about it, primarily because I wasn’t sure whether it was practical enough to be deployed in relatively flatter region like Marathwada, where the drought is most acute, and suitable sites for dams, not so easy to come by. (See my earlier posts covering the Ujani and Jayakawadi dams.) However, as it so happened, I was somewhat surprised to find someone trying to advocate this idea within the government last year or so. … I vaguely remember the reports in the local Marathi newspapers in Pune, though I can’t off-hand give you the links.

On second thoughts, here are the links I found today, after googling for “check dams near bridges”. Here are a couple of the links this search throws up as of today: [^] and [^].

… Also, make sure to check the “images” tab produced by this Google search too. … As expected, the government agencies have been dumb enough to throw at least some money at at least a few shallow check-dams too (not good for storage due to evaporation losses) that were erected seemingly in the regions of hard rocks and all (generally, not so good for seepage and ground-water recharge either). As just one example, see here [^]. I am sure there are many, many other similar sites in many other states too. Government dumb-ness is government dumb-ness. It is not constrained by this government or that government. It is global in its reach—it’s even universal!

And that’s another reason why I insist on private initiative, and on involvement of local engineering college students and faculty members. They can be motivated when the matter is close to their concerns, their life, and so, with their involvement the results can turn out to be very beneficial. If nothing else, a project experience like this would help the students become better engineers—less wasteful ones. That too is such an enormous benefit that we could be even separately aiming for it. Here, it can come as a part of the same project.

Anyway, to close this post: Be on the lookout for good potential sites, and feel free to get in touch with me for further discussions on any technical aspects related to this issue. Take care, and bye for now…

A song I like:

(Hindi) “chori chori jab nazare mili…”
Lyrics: Rahat Indori
Music: Anu Malik
Singers: Kumar Sanu, Sanjeevani

[A song with a very fresh feel. Can’t believe it came from Anu Malik. (But, somehow, the usual plagiarism reporting sites don’t include this song! Is it really all that original? May be…)]